In their 23-20 overtime win over the Chicago Bears in Week 1, the Buffalo Bills ran the football 33 times for 193 yards, and forced three turnovers defensively to steal a win in a game that could have gone either way. The Bills are a run-first offense through and through, and were able to stay balanced offensively thanks to five separate passing plays that gained 15 or more yards.
These are the big-moment throws that the Bills will need EJ Manuel to continue to make if they're going to build on their big Week 1 win and make a serious push for the postseason. The captions on the photos in the above gallery explain what Manuel was seeing on those throws, and you can flip through those on whichever device you're reading (rotate into landscape mode on mobile). Here are brief explainers for the plays, as well:
Play 1 (stills 1-3): Chicago is in man coverage (Cover 1) on a short-yardage play, and the Bills have drag routes running in opposite directions underneath. Those are man-beaters, so Manuel knows he'll probably have a check-down option for first down yardage. He focuses on the depth of the underneath linebacker at the point that the drags cross each other, notes that Marquise Goodwin has drawn attention up the seam, and makes a go-get-it throw into single coverage toward Robert Woods up the right sideline.
Play 2 (stills 4-7): Chicago is in Cover 1 man again, with a deep safety buzzing into the middle of the field. Horizontal spacing routes take care of the underneath defenders, Manuel locks the shallow safety into the middle of the field and reads his leverage, then throws behind it to the in-breaking dig route run cleanly by Sammy Watkins. This was Manuel's easiest throw of the day.
Play 3 (stills 8-10): Chicago is in Cover 3, with a single-high safety and their corners handling zone coverage on the boundaries. The split end (Goodwin, on the right side of the formation) and the slot receiver (Woods) run hitch routes at the sticks, with Chandler and Mike Williams running parallel in-breaking post routes. While sliding to his left, Manuel holds the underneath linebacker inside on Chandler's route, then throws an accurate-enough pass behind him to an open Williams.
Play 4 (stills 11-13): More Cover 3 from Chicago, and this time the Bills have a four verticals call on. Both seam routes are wide open past the first layer of the zone, stressing that single-high safety, and Manuel throws to the receiver he's more comfortable with (though into the free safety's leverage). Woods jumps a bit early, but hangs in the air long enough to high-point the ball for the biggest catch of the game.
Play 5 (stills 14-16): In overtime, the Bears have two deep safeties, with Charles Tillman lined up in man across from Chandler on the left side of the field, and more of a zone look on the right side (note the corner in off coverage) across from all three of Buffalo's receivers are on the right side of the alignment. Woods clears the underneath defenders and has good leverage, and Watkins clears the right-most safety, so Manuel knows he'll have plenty of space up the seam to Williams. He anticipates that throw so well that the ball is thrown before Williams' head is turned - it's another high throw, to get over the underneath defender and over the downhill free safety - and Williams makes those catches look easy.
These were all good route combination calls, able to beat the Bears' called coverages, and Manuel made clean reads and solid throws into space. Manuel has always looked most comfortable at the NFL level throwing up the seams, so expect the Miami Dolphins to play more man coverages in Week 2, forcing him to display better ball placement on more horizontal routes designed to beat one-on-one coverage.